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Trump Threatens to Strip Ex-Intel Chiefs of Security Clearances; Feds Have 12 Michael Cohen Audio Recordings; Potential Jurors in Manafort Case to Begin Filling Out Questionnaires; Satellite Images Show North Korea Has Begun Dismantling Key Test Site. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired July 24, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] BERMAN: That's all for us today. Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That is the good stuff. Good for him.

And good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. So glad you're with me. We begin with a new front in President Trump's seemingly endless campaign against U.S. intelligence.

At the urging of Republican Senator Rand Paul, the president is threatening to revoke the security clearances of former top intelligence officials who have publicly criticized him. This is not a done deal yet. And I should note that two of the names on his list, former FBI director James Comey and Deputy Director Andy McCabe, they don't even have their security clearances anymore. But it would be an unprecedented move. And it is one the White House is considering.

Why? Because the White House claims that they're all guilty of, quote, "politicizing intel," which is exactly what critics of the White House say the White House is doing with this threat.

Let's go to Jeremy Diamond. He joins me outside the White House with more. And not only is this sort of in unchartered water, which is not new for this White House, it's something that according to our reporting the White House, the president's team, is very comfortable with how this debate is playing out for them, right? This is a new way for them to make the deep state argument?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Absolutely. They're not only comfortable with the argument that they're making, but they're also comfortable with this strategy of chasing one controversy away with another, something that this White House is of course fond of doing. And the former controversy that we're talking a little bit less about today is of course the president's handling of that news conference with Vladimir Putin and his ongoing efforts to get closer to Russia.

But let's just remember how this started just yesterday when Senator Rand Paul visited the White House to urge the president to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, the former CIA director, who, of course, has been very critical of the president. And after that, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, she not only confirmed that the president was considering revoking John Brennan's security clearance, but said that he was also considering revoking the clearance of several other officials.

Michael Hayden, for example, the former director of the National Security Agency. Susan Rice, the former National Security adviser, and James Clapper, of course, the former director of National Intelligence. And of course, this would be an unprecedented use of the president's power over the security clearance system. And James Clapper on CNN last night called it an abuse of that very system.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think this is a real abuse of the clearance system. Just to use it to attack political opponents or people who had been critical of the president. It has all kinds of First Amendment implications, which are deeply disturbing.


DIAMOND: So there is clearly a political aim here to what the White House is doing. All of the officials that Sarah Sanders named yesterday have been critical of the president. Susan Rice as recently as Sunday when she was criticizing the president. But Sarah Sanders also said that this was about former officials monetizing their public service. Of course, none of these officials have used their security clearance as a way to get more money, but she was talking about monetizing public service in general.

And for that, Sarah Sanders may want to talk to one of her former predecessors in the White House briefing room, Sean Spicer, who is out with a book today, also monetizing his public service.

HARLOW: That's right.


HARLOW: That's right. An interesting nugget in there about a green tie in St. Paddy's Day. But I will let our viewers read that.

Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

Now let's bring in Mike Baker, a 17-year veteran of counterterrorism ops at the CIA, a co-founder of the intelligence and security firm, Diligence LLC.

Nice to have you. Thanks for being here, Mike. Let's talk about what former DNI Clapper called this. He called this a terrible precedent, he called it sad commentary for the White House. I mean, is this precedent setting? Is this routine? Is this somewhere in the middle? How do you see this, if it were to happen?

MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Yes. It's -- you know, it's not precedent setting. It's -- you know, people lose their security clearances all the time. They're either pulled because they have no need anymore, they expire and they're not renewed. Frankly -- and I'm not going to make a lot of friends in Washington because there's a cottage industry of -- you know, of taking your clearances with you into the commercial sector, as sort of an attractive hiring element. But I think really what we should be doing all along, and this has nothing to do with the current tweets from the president, but just separately as an issue with the clearances, we should just say, fine, you leave your government position, your need to know, then you lose your clearances.

And then if you need those clearances, then you either have them sponsored by a commercial company or you are reviewed individually, whether you're the head of an agency or not.

HARLOW: All right, Mike. I hear that. But let's get to what -- I hear that. And that's a debate maybe that should be had more. But what's germane to this conversation right now is whether or not you're OK with and the American people should be OK with the president threatening to and possibly actually following through on revoking security clearances of people who publicly criticized him because of that public criticism and their First Amendment right to do it?

BAKER: Right, I -- yes. No, I think it's the wrong approach, it's the wrong move.

[09:05:04] You know, I mean, and it looks exactly like what it is. It looks vindictive, it looks petty.


BAKER: It shouldn't be done. But I think everybody can agree that, yes, that's not the right direction. But also, I tell you what I'm also worried about is, we haven't seen this before. And as you pointed out early on, we're in uncharted territory. For John Brennan, the former director of the agency, to come out and say the things he's been saying, that's not -- that's not common. You don't see that. And so that's disturbing, as well.

We should be in a different place, right, but we're not. And so we have to deal with that. I think the White House, as usual, there's a self-inflicted wound here where, you know, fine, you could have let these clearances expire at some point. They have a right to say what they're going to say. But at some point --

HARLOW: But I should --

BAKER: -- you don't want them to have clearances, let them expire. Don't renew them.

HARLOW: And you have said, look, look, John Brennan calling the Trump-Putin summit presser sort of tantamount to treason is bringing this on himself, that's your opinion. I should note, when, you know, former National Security adviser Michael Flynn was on stage at -- you know, at the convention, you know, shouting, "lock her up, lock her up" about Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration, although they warned the Trump team about not hiring him, didn't do anything like this. Didn't threaten his security clearance.

BAKER: Right. No, that's --

HARLOW: Didn't revoke it.

BAKER: Right.

HARLOW: Are there things that should be above politics?

BAKER: Yes. I mean, this is -- again, I can't -- it's bizarre. It's surreal that we're even having conversations like this because in a sense what's happening is the message or the methodology almost appears to be driven by the White House. Trump sends out these tweets and then people sort of -- you know, they all kind of descend to that same level. So you have a former director doing that same thing. You have others doing the same thing. And pretty soon, I mean, you have Rouhani from Iran doing -- we're in a very strange position right now.


BAKER: Where we're debating serious, serious issues with 280 characters.


BAKER: So I don't know that any of us know how to process the point, but I guess, yes, if you're asking for my opinion after years of dealing with classified material, I would not want my clearances to have been revoked for political reasons because I'm simply stating my mind. That's not appropriate.

HARLOW: Mike Baker, nice to have you. Thanks so much.

BAKER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Let's discuss the politics of all of this. Patrick Healy, our CNN political analyst, "New York Times" politics editor is here. Also joining me, Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics.

Patrick, let's go through and unpack what Sarah Sanders said yesterday because this was prompted by a question that a reporter asked about a series of tweets by Republican Congressman Rand Paul, who's been in a big way in the president's corner on this one.

Here's part of what Sarah Sanders said.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they politicize and in some cases monetize their public service and security clearances.


HARLOW: Monetize? Ironic, coming from this White House? PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And it's a pretty

strange claim, Poppy, the reality is, is that, you know, former administration officials both Republican and Democrat have held security clearances because they're seen as of value. These officials are seen as of value to the government. So the idea that American officials are sort of going out and doing deal-making and making money solely on their security clearances is -- I mean, it's a really grave charge, if true. And the reality is this White House hasn't shown any ability to back that up with any kind of proof. And what it feels like is, you know, is really kind of political retribution.

HARLOW: Well, that's an interesting point you make, I mean, because they can be of service to the current government, which means protecting national security, should they have to serve in an advisory role to someone in their current position, right? Saying, hey, what did you see? Can you walk me through this? We need to know this to -- you know, to best protect America. That is the point.

And yes, to Mike Baker's point, it does, you know, maybe help them get lucrative deals on the side in the private sector.

HEALY: Sure, no -- and that's thing.


HARLOW: But that's part of it, right?

HEALY: Right. Absolutely. Look, when a major senior official leaves an administration and he or she has a security clearance, that is part of sort of a package of expertise and background that does make them, you know, appealing for, you know, to companies, to consultancies, you know, that money can be made on the whole package. But the White House hasn't done is present any evidence --


HEALY: -- that these officials have actually monetized the use of their clearances. And the reality is, Poppy, if every official in this government left office and didn't have a security clearance, what would be the value of all of their, you know, accrued wisdom over the years? Why would we have a government, you know, and how would we benefit from it, if officials just sort of left and weren't able to be called upon for their expertise and expertise in far-flung places of the world?

[09:10:04] HARLOW: That's interesting point. So, Caitlin, let's listen to the second half of Sarah Sanders' explanation here.


SANDERS: Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.


HARLOW: "Baseless Charges," Caitlin? What -- baseless charges like, I don't know, claiming that President Obama was not born in the United States with zero evidence?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Right, exactly. To make that kind of claim is really rich, especially given what you just described, which is, you know, the president could have revoked security clearances earlier on or, you know, did so for people like Mike Flynn, who obviously we know what happened there.

This is a situation where it's hard to see how this isn't political. You could argue that some of the people on this list, including James Clapper, are not very sympathetic characters, especially among lawmakers. Remember, lawmakers were critical of Clapper's testimony a few years ago when it came to the NSA. But that's not what's going on here. If the president really was concerned about that, he would have perhaps talked about this before.

The issue here is really the Russia investigation and the way in which -- and Trump's dealings with Russia. I mean, remember, just last week, you had a variety of different voices from the intelligence community and really across the political spectrum critical of the way in which the president handled that meeting. And we know the president is very insecure about the Russia investigation in totality. And so the idea that he would revoke these clearances or want to revoke these clearances now, it's hard to see how that's anything but political.

HARLOW: Let's listen to how Republican congressman, Scott Taylor, sees this.


REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: No, I'm not OK with it. I'm not OK with it at all. It's free speech. So if something -- so I'm troubled by it. I think it is -- it's not what we need to be doing.


HARLOW: He's sort of alone on that island of Republicans, at least right now who have been publicly condemning this. But, Patrick, I mean, what can Republicans in Congress do, should the Trump administration follow through with these threats? What are they willing to do?

HEALY: I think what they're willingness seems pretty low, Poppy. I mean, there's been a real kind of circling of the wagons for, you know, a couple of years now around President Trump and some of the, you know, most sort of stunning or egregious things that he's said. I mean, you sometimes have Republicans kind of defending certainly intelligence agencies and there are a few like John McCain, who have really called out the president, you know, on -- you know, on some of his statements. But by and large, there hasn't been a willingness, Poppy. And the First Amendment, you know, point is true. Look, if you had a former CIA director who was going on television,

you know, in exchange for some, let's say, kind of like sum of money, doing an exclusive on some television show and giving up national security information, what was clear was either, you know, classified information or, you know, unclassified, recently unclassified, that would be shocking. I mean, that scenario is very hard to imagine. And that would be monetizing a security clearance.

What you have are people who are basically, you know, formerly in high positions of the government, you know, who are speaking their mind, exercising their First Amendment rights, and offering analysis of what they think is sort of our stunning behavior moments and comments by the president of the United States.

I mean, there is value in that, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, you know, in terms of saying, hey, this is strange behavior. This is unusual behavior. That doesn't mean you're giving up national security secrets.

HARLOW: We're out of time, yes or no if I can, Caitlin, and you get the first answer the next time. Does this happen?

HUEY-BURNS: It seems like they are ready to go forward with this.


HUEY-BURNS: I do think, though, just pointing to what James Clapper said the other day about the precedent that this sets, setting a bar of loyalty to the president I think gets into very dangerous territory in regards to getting a security clearance.

HARLOW: Thank you, both. Caitlin, Patrick, nice to have you.

Just days until the next reunification deadline. Now the administration says more than 450 parents of separated children age 5 and older are no longer in the United States. Were they deported without their children? We're going to dig into that.

Also, new satellite images this morning show that North Korea has begun dismantling a key test site? Is this evidence that U.S. negotiations with the rogue nation are proving positive?

And it's as tall as Big Ben, it weighs 11 million tons. Look at that. Now this enormous iceberg is threatening an entire village in Greenland. We'll take you there.


HARLOW: What is on those tapes? A key question today as federal prosecutors comb through 12 secret recordings that were seized during the FBI raid of President Trump's former fixer and personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

This, as CNN learns, the man representing Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti tried to team up to work with Cohen. But let's get to the tapes. Brynn Gingras is following it all for us. Twelve recordings. Notable, only one apparently has the president on it.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Only one. Let's start with the fact that all those 12 tapes are now in the hands of the government who continue to build this case against Michael Cohen after that April raid on his home, hotel and office.

So, one of those tapes, we know from a source, has to do with the fact that there was a conversation between Cohen and Trump regarding Karen McDougal. She's a woman who says she had an alleged affair with the president back many years ago for many months.

The other tapes, we're hearing, some conversations have to do with the media. It's not clear exactly what's on those tapes, but it's that one tape that really is raising eyebrows.

[09:20:00] But, really, it's the backstory to this, Poppy, that's even more interesting because let's remember, in this case, the special master is the one who was going through all this evidence, deeming what is attorney/client privilege.

HARLOW: The Southern District rather. Not Mueller's team. The South District on Cohen, right?

GINGRAS: In this case, right. And she said those tapes were under attorney/client privilege. So, they didn't really need to see the light of day, to be honest with you.

What happened next was that the president's attorneys said that they were taking back that attorney/client privilege -


GINGRAS: - and then Cohen's attorneys - that's the big question why. Now, Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, now says it's because not exculpatory to Trump. It's not a big smoking gun against the president at this point.

But still, the question is, is this a signal that's going to Cohen, like we don't care if they see those tapes? So, what's going on here? And that's the big question now.

HARLOW: And just to be clear, the president had tweeted that it may be possibly illegal for Cohen to make these recordings. Not really in New York, right?

GINGRAS: It's not. We don't know what their strategy is exactly about why they want to have these tapes released to see the light of day. So, it's unclear what the strategy is there. And that's really the big question.

Again, is this just another thing for the feud that continues to go public.

HARLOW: And if Cohen made the recording here in New York, it's a one- party consent state, so he wouldn't be breaking the law. Thanks, Brynn.

GINGRAS: All right.

HARLOW: Appreciate it. Today, the first potential jurors in the criminal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort begin filling out their juror questionnaires.

This, as we learn about five witnesses, that have been granted immunity to testify in the Mueller probe. Shimon Prokupecz is following the latest.

It's interesting when you look at what these jurors will and won't be asked.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, it certainly is. And those potential jurors are now in the courtroom seated behind Paul Manafort. He's there in a suit.

Yesterday, when he was here, he was in his green prison jumpsuit. Today, he's dressed in a suit, facing his potential jurors. They are being introduced to him, along with the attorneys.

And what the judge said yesterday was that he was going to give the potential jurors just a brief outline of the case, perhaps how long the case will take. And then, the jurors are all going to come back next week when the trial actually begins, when they will be chosen.

Also yesterday, as you said, five witnesses were granted immunity. These are witnesses who had some personal and business dealings with Paul Manafort. The judge granting them immunity. They will testify according to the special counsel's office.

And also, the delay. This trial was supposed to start tomorrow. It's now been delayed until next week because the defense attorney, Paul Manafort's attorneys, asked for more time to review information and documents that they received relating to Rick Gates, who as we know, is the former business partner of Paul Manafort and has been cooperating and will be testifying in this trial, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Shimon, appreciate it very, very much. Thank you.

HARLOW: So, ahead for us, what does this - take a look at this image. What does this say about the ongoing negotiations between the United States and North Korea? These are new satellite images that actually show the dismantling of a key North Korean test site.

And we're just moments away also on Wall Street from the opening bell. Stocks set to open higher. Strong earnings by tech companies leading the way.

One stock to watch, Harley Davidson told investors that tariff battles are affecting the bottom line. Of course, the president called them out. They're moving some production overseas. What does this all mean? Ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:28:05] HARLOW: Welcome back. North Korea now appears to be dismantling a key test site in what South Korea is touting as a major step towards denuclearization.

The new satellite images that we have - take a look at this - what this is showing you is work happening in the Sohae launch station in North Korea. South Korean officials say this is a good sign and it will have a good effect on denuclearization.

Our Will Ripley joins me now with more. I mean, Will, you've reported in North Korea 18 times. You took that long train ride to see them disassemble a different test site ahead of the Trump-Kim summit. How significant is what we're seeing in these images and are they 100 percent verified?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're not 100 percent verified because just like the nuclear test site, apparently demolition that I witnessed at Punggye-ri in May, there are no international inspectors at the Sohae satellite launch site to actually tell the world what is going on there.

We are only relying on satellite imagery which does appear to show work just within the past couple of days, dismantling some of the key buildings on that site.

But as of now, there is no confirmation about whether this is actually dismantlement, is it refurbishment?

The analysts at 38 North seem to think if this is North Korea actually taking apart this satellite launch site which was first used in 2012, used again in 2016 to launch what they claim were peaceful rockets carrying satellites into orbit, but which US and South Korean and other intelligence agencies around the world felt was testing ballistic missile technology because that same rocket could potentially carry a warhead, obviously, it is a significant step.

But North Korea has kind of moved on from the liquid fuel technology that they were using at the Sohae launch site. When you would roll a rocket out at Sohae, it was sitting on the pad for days while they were fueling it up.

You could see the workers kind of testing things, getting ready for the launch. A pretty inefficient, slow process compared with the solid fuel ballistic missiles that North Korea has since developed, the kind of missiles that they roll out on mobile launchers that we've seen North Korea test repeatedly in recent years.

So, if you're talking about cars, the missiles at Sohae are like the old Chevy that North Korea is now taking apart.